Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to tell your children... and a give away

Do you ever get a dandelion in your front yard?  And pretty soon, they rapidly multiply till you then have a yellow blanket of dandelions instead of a front yard.  What are dandelions?  Weeds, that grow out of control if you don't do something to get rid of them.  They choke out our healthy green grass.  So how can you get rid of them?  Well, you can spray them with chemicals.  Or you can use a hoe and hack them out of the ground.  Pretty soon, the dandelions dry up, or disappear altogether.  And your lawn turns green and healthy again.  Then you can keep a watch out for them, and the minute you see one come back, you can get rid of it, before they try to multiply out of control again.

This is what the staff from The Roger Maris Cancer Center told kids at the boys school yesterday.  I thought it worked equally well for both our 2nd grader, as our 4th grader.   We've been as forthcoming as we can with them, and just make every assurance Mommy is going to get better.

A few more goodies that brightened my day... pink blush roses.  They are gorgeous and I stop and get a good smell of them before I leave in the mornings. Thanks Melissa!  They're truly the perfect shade of pink.

I also got a wonderful visit yesterday from a friend whom I haven't seen in ages.  She brought me a throw for over my shoulders, a book to read and her bright cheery self.  Thanks Carrie, I'll be seeing you soon!

I've also received cards, some gift cards for dinner out, and numerous other thoughtful things.  Please forgive me if I forget to mention something here.  Each and every thing is such a blessing to us and I fear I will overlook someone or something.

I love this next thing.  One of my first years as a hockey mom I started to form some casual friendships with some of the other moms.  One of the first ones, was with my friend Amy.  To my delight we both discovered we loved to read.  After Anne by Roxanne Henke was one of the first books we bonded over.  Roxanne Henke happens to be a North Dakota native and is a Christian Fiction writer.  The book, ironically enough, is about a budding friendship between two unlikely friends, and a journey through breast cancer for one of the friends, is at the center of it.  

Amy wrote an email to Roxanne who sent me a lovely card with a wonderfully inspiring message.  She offered to send me one of her books.  I was thrilled!  Imagine my delight when the package arrived, she gave me not 1 but 4 books total. 

Here is what I would like to do. GIVE ONE AWAY!  I can't begin to thank you all enough for this outpouring of love and support, and I can pay it forward with this little gem of a book.  So if you would like to win an autographed copy of Roxanne's book:

1- let me know you are a follower and leave me a comment that you want to enter-

2- become a follower and leave me a comment that you want to enter-

In your comment, please answer the following:  what is your favorite inspirational quote, or bible verse.

Please only leave 1 comment and I will select the lucky winner through

You have until Friday at 9:00pm to enter.  Good luck!

Just a couple more thoughts.  If you are in our hockey community you may know that Becky K., was hospitalized at Essentia yesterday.  She is being evaluated for an abscess in her lower stomach and is expected to stay in the hospital through the weekend.  I went to see her today and she is in some pain, but being a trooper while they figure out what they need to do.  I will send updates as they become available, but I know she would welcome your positive thoughts and prayers.

Laugh for the night... Nolan:" Mom, but how do they do the surgery on your BREATH cancer?"  "I just don't get it!" 

Just so you know I am not making light of anything, I faced the stark reality of what the MRI is going to be used to scan on Friday... brain cancer.  You would think that because I've heard breast, liver and spine involvement, that brain involvement wouldn't be any different.  But it shook me to the core, and I openly wept as that possibility sunk in.  

Dr. Panwalkar, Dr. Nordstrom, and Dr. Bouton all tomorrow.

We'll see how good their dandelion eradication program is.

All shall be well.  All shall be well.  All shall be well.  

Monday, March 28, 2011


"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."  Victor Hugo - Sent to me by our sweet Gitz.

I spent the weekend in a cocoon of good friends, great food, lots of laughs and so many blessings.  The basket below of pink and girly goodness showed up with Pam and Becky, hockey moms like me,  who pretty much covered everything a girl could want, and then some.  Everything was soft, fuzzy, warm, scented, soothing, and heartfelt.  Becky and Pam have awesome taste!  Thank you girls for knowing how to bring comfort to my being.

Dear God, Please help me be worthy...  please help me be a good steward of so much abundance.  God, I am so surprised with the words you are putting on the tip of my tongue, abundance, peace, joy and love.  For me?  Please help me keep my feet on the ground and keep me humbled. 

These decisions are coming at us so fast.  The Mayo clinic cannot see us until the middle of April.  I cannot wait.  Every fiber of my being tells me to push forward and begin the treatment being offered to me here, at Roger Maris Cancer Center.  

Please Lord, help me with discernment, so that I make the best decisions available to me.

The phone rings at 9:00 this morning.  I am asked to go back to the clinic.  My happiness bubble bursts as I step into the overflowing waiting room.  I'm ushered back to the room where I will sign consent for the clinical trial.  I work my way through a crowded room full of sick and sicker people.  They are, who I will become and I am going into that little room to tell them that is okay.  Make me just like them.  I know they are more than cancer.  I know they are grandpas, and sisters, and moms like me.  They each have a story unique to tell, and one day I hope to know their stories.  I am only a preface to a story that I hope will one day become a long drawn out novel.

Please let me be worthy.

I'm home and I go through my basket.  The first thing I pull out is the pink rock.

When I took the Ali Edwards One Word Challenge, I went with the word "alive" in January.  I do it instead of a New Year's resolution.  I never know how the word will manifest in my life.  My word almost always chooses me.  After Dad died this past July, I simply wanted to feel "alive" in everything that I do.  Its ironic to me, that "fighting to be"... was not what I had planned, only what I humbly accept with hands opened wide.

Thank you Pam, for making this for me and to Sara for the handwriting we are all trying to emulate.  

Do you see that cute boy in my sidebar with the Necklaces sign?  Its also the brainchild of Pam.  She also created this bracelet for me.  Its hockey laces she has braided and then sewed a clasp on to hook the ends together.  Genius I tell you.  Stay tuned for more info to come on how you could purchase one of her neckLaces or bracelets too :)  The bracelets with the pink are part of a fundraiser being done on my/our behalf.

As I go to make something for lunch, the phone rings.  Another friend, a hockey mom who wants to bring a book over, and her baby boy Andrew whom I am quite smitten with.  Oh and can she bring lunch? 

I hold the baby, we eat and talk... my cup overflows.  

I already know I will love the book.  Anyone who understands the burden of shoving a cancer-sized diagnosis down your throat in one big swallow, will appreciate a mind-sized bites approach.
Thank you Nikki!   

And still there is more.  Phone calls, cards, emails, texts.  Hugs.  Plates and pans of bars.  With hands open wide I accept.  And with hands open wide I also accept: an MRI, an Echocardiogram, an EKG, a bone scan, a CT scan and some blood work for good measure.  

One more thing, in case you need a little laugh, I also got a prescription for a cranial prosthesis.  It took me a couple of minutes to realize, its for a wig!  Obla di Obla da, with or without hair, life goes on.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fight like a girl...

Page 57, Ann Voskamp's one thousand gifts,

"Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant-a seed- this plants the giant miracle.  The miracle of Eucharisteo, like the Last Supper, is in the eating of the crumbs, the swallowing down one mouthful.  Do not disdain the small.  The whole of the life-even the hard-is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.  It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up.

"Even the hard."  And its gotten hard.  So very hard.

There was a sadness around Dr. Panwalkar's eyes when I met with him Friday morning.  He was businesslike, professional.  No time for small talk.  Lots of big talk.  The PET scan reveals the cancer has spread, a spot on my liver, a spot in my vertebrae in my back.  This means, of course, stage 4.

The room deflates.   He asks "were you expecting this?"  "No, emphatically, no."  I have been hopeful.  We sit in silence a bit as he begins to outline a new plan.  The aggressive treatment is used to help stage 3 not turn into stage 4, so since that has already happened, we need not beat me up with this aggressive Adriamyacin just yet.  Plus, I will benefit from getting the HER-2 sooner, and it does not play well with Adriamyacin.  He explains I now quality for a clinical trial of a new drug, that works along with Taxol  and 1 of the other drugs.  He is scientist today, medical doctor today, and I do my best to follow what he is outlining. But it is foreign sounding, risky sounding, and suddenly I realize we don't know if this is what's best.

There will be no treatment today.  We will seek pre- authorization from the insurance company for the tests that would need to be done if I were to decide on this clinical trial.

Dr. P gets up to go, and hesitates just a moment.  I tell him "I'm listening to you, I've heard you, but I'm not letting that determine how I will fight."  He nods his head "prove me wrong, he says, I hope you will prove me wrong."

We leave for home.  I pray for discernment.  A new thought is cropping up over and over again... to go to the Mayo clinic in Rochester for a second opinion.  I arrive at home and see Colton's blanket lying next to my bed with his pillow.  He snuck into our room and slept next to me on the floor last night.

I collapse on my babe's blanket and weep.

But the "gifts" keep filling in the spaces.  My Thanksgiving journal is overflowing.

Spring walks through my door with flowers from my sweet friends Robin and Sara.

Anne brings me the tiny white vase with the word love inscribed on it.  She also brings me the "Fight like a girl" shirt, and a whole bunch of pink breast cancer accoutrement.  Ohhh and yummy monster bars which we devoured.

Amy, oh my... on the day she comes to help pick out blue paint, she brings these daisies... and then

Another knock at the door and more sunshine comes in the way of flowers from Matt and Julie, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Julie's own mom has battled breast cancer twice, and beaten it and Julie was the age of Nolan (10) when her mom found out.

My other sister-in-law, Kelly, sent me The Miraculous Medal of Saint Catherine Laboure and has asked that I be remembered in a Mass each week for one year for those seeking healing.

The shirt Anne gave to me.

And then Amy came up with these, as in, she MADE them.  Its her very own version of a wordle, done in colors to match my bedroom.  Do you see the breast cancer ribbons painted in the background?  Could it not be any more perfect?

And, my one word, come to life on my wall in a canvas!  I'm speechless, with a big side of giddy.

"All shall be well..."

And Grace, sweet little Grace.  She gave Colton and I each an envelope and made these for us.  She is Colton's heart friend, and he couldn't be in better hands.  Thank you Grace.

And the emails I get?  The facebook notes.  The cards in the mail.  The texts?  The phone calls.  

Donations were collected at Family Fun night last night for us.

Suddenly I see what this is doing.  One of my friends, meets another friend.  And a neighbor meets my relatives.  And a stranger battling the same thing, stops by our house to give me a hug, and is a stranger no more.  A community is growing.  Bonds are forming.  Bridges are being made.  

And its this, I think, that wins the fight.  Thats what I would tell Dr. P.  The science, yes, the medicine, yes, but my secret weapon?  I have all of you!  

I'm giving thanks for each and every one of you.  
Thinking back to Ann's book and the quote up above...
"The moments are all adding up."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Obla Di Obla Da

"Modern medicine" truly is a marvel to me.  When they told me to show up at the "day surgery" unit at 6 am for placement of my port, I wasn't sure what I had signed up for.  When they wheeled me into an actual operating room and squirted me down with orange betadine, I half ways expected Dr. McDreamy to peer over the draped cloths at any moment.  From the big overhead lights, to the sterile surroundings, and the trembling and shivering of my legs in reaction to the cold temp in the room, it reminded me of too many other surgeries I have had.  But through a carefully monitored combination of drugs, I was kept only mildly sedated, and pain free.

A pocket of sorts was made in my skin just below my collarbone and then a microtube was threaded through my vein into a major artery near my heart.  The whole procedure took about half an hour.  The chemo will be put into the port lying just under my skin tomorrow and all of my labs will get drawn from there as well.

The PET scan was equally painless, and done in no time.  Soooo, I went from this :

To this!  

Seriously.  From "surgery" to DQ in the span of a day.

I broke out my list of things I am grateful for and jotted down 1 more.
My first Dairy Queen this spring.  I didn't care that is was cold and covered with snow.  After a long day of no food at the hospital, DQ never tasted so good.

But the biggest surprise was signing into my blog and any tear I was spared from shedding today, poured out in one big happy and astonishing moment. 

Sara gave me a much needed blog makeover, and you all showed up to love on me.  You came from Robin's and Sara's and Kelly's and I couldn't wrap my brain around it.  I cherished each and every comment.  You know how to make a battered soul smile.  My faith keeps deepening, and God keeps showing up in the details.  

Dinner came from a friend, ribs and potatoes, and all the fixings. I swore I wasn't going to eat for fear of getting sick tomorrow and spoiling the taste of ribs for good... but you know I couldn't turn down ribs.

And this little cutie?  Got up in front of his class today and told them his mom has cancer.  And she's going to get better.  Indeed, with all of this love, support and prayers, how can she not get better?  

Dr. Panwalkar tomorrow at 8 am for the results of my PET scan.
Chemo at 9. 

obla di obla da

Thank you from a very humbled heart... 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

All Shall be Well

Its raining, sleeting/snowing and thundering outside tonight and I've heard rumors there was hail.  It seems the weather took a cue from my internal state and can't quite decide how it really feels at any given moment today.  Oddly that makes perfect sense to me.

It hardly feels like just a week ago today, I was in that tiny exam room with the tech telling me I had cancer.  One test, 1 page of images.  And she knew.  And so did the Doctor.  But he wanted to wait till they did more tests to tell me.  But she didn't wait.  With his permission, she told me first.  She normally isn't the one to deliver such news.  I can't help think it was such a brave thing for her to do.  She felt I should know, so I could start preparing.  I think I learned a lot from her in that moment.  The doctor stammered and stuttered more than she did, when he later confirmed her suspicions.  She may have been afraid, but she did it anyway.  With grace and compassion.

I cried, called Rick, and sat in shock for a bit.  I've had cysts before on two other occasions.  This one just hasn't resolved on its own, and when it quickly developed a hard ridge to it I knew I needed to have it checked.  I really hadn't been prepared for this.

As I sat there gathering myself, I remember thinking to myself,  please God, just let me know how to walk out of here on my own two feet.  Please God, just help me breathe.  The tech returned.  Somehow I made it to the mammogram machine, and back to the exam room for the needle biopsy.  The staff were all warm and compassionate.  The doctor's hands were gentle.  I breathed and walked, breathed and walked.  Calmness descended.  Please God, be with me.  I am no fan of needles.

"Snap," the needle enters and brings out its first sample.  I startle at the loud sound it makes, but I hardly feel them.  10 total samples and 2 shots of lidocaine, one hour later I am done.  1 more mammogram.  Bleeding stopped, bandaged.  And I went home.

And fell apart.  Are you sure God?  I think it takes a really strong person, and I am not feeling all that strong.  Soreness settles into my side and arm.  How am I going to do this God?  Please show me the way...

Thursday I awake with the nurse's words in my head, "Grab a book, stay in bed, and read."  I've been waiting to have the time to read this new book.  Suddenly the whole day has been made just for this.  I reach for my nightstand and this is what I grasp, "one thousand gifts, a dare to live more fully right where you are" by Ann Voskamp.

I read and read, barely stopping for anything.  Eucharisteo.  Giving thanks, for the gifts and blessings I already have.  Take the dare.  Its the only way to do this.

And this is how I am doing it.  Being thankful in everything.  I absolutely think this book, on this day, in my hands, is a God thing.

My list is growing daily.

Thunderstorms in March
virtual couches online
doctors with a sense of humor
the smell of freshly ground morning coffee brewing in the pot
blue paint samples that make me want to dive right in

And yet I stumble.  I fall in weakness, and break down.  But someone is always there to pick me up, stand me up when I don't think I can, until I know I can again.

I hardly know how to express my gratitude for all the love, prayers, concern, tears, joy, and laughter, I have been surrounded with these past few days.  I am humbled to say the least.  And I think you all are answered prayers.

Writing has always been a therapy of sorts for me, and my hope is to chronicle this journey when I can.  My sweet friend Sara, has agreed to fill in for me when I am unable to do so myself.

Love and blessings to you all.  Count your gifts todays.  I am finding you can see them in the tiniest moments.  If you are open to seeing them, they are all around us.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Hello to all of you Westra World followers...
This is Vicky’s friend Gitz {Sara}, and I’m going to be filling in here for Vicky from time to time as she needs me. There have been some drastic changes in her world, and as much as I’d love to find an easy way to coax us all into it, there just isn’t one. So as Vicky walks forward so will we...
A few days ago, Vicky received a diagnosis of breast cancer from her doctors. I know, that sentence is going to take a moment to really sink in. It did for all of us. She found out late last week that it was cancer, but didn’t have any real information about it until today. Vicky met with her doctor early this morning and right now they are calling it an aggressive and invasive stage three cancer.
As much as we all would like a minute to process this, even try to deny it’s possible, we are all now on cancer’s timeline, and on the doctor’s timeline to beat it. Things are moving rapidly, and we are so grateful that the medical professionals are moving whatever mountains necessary to treat her as quickly as possible. Vicky will have a PET scan on Wednesday so they can be fully informed about where the cancer is, and if it has gone beyond stage three or not. On Thursday she’ll have a port placed in her chest and Friday she begins chemotherapy, and should also get a full report on the PET scan that day.
Vicky is amazing. She probably thinks she’s a mess, but she’s wrong. She is standing on her own two feet, she is being faithful and transparent and is measuring her steps so she is walking forward intentionally. She chose "Alive" as her one word for the year, and she is going to live through this diagnosis with all of us by her, loving her and holding her up.
She will blog here when she has words. She knows it will be a therapy for her, but for now, she has a whirlwind week of learning the language of medicine and focusing on making sure she and her family are ready for what lies ahead. So sometimes she’ll show up here, and when she can’t I’ll be here so you never have to wonder how she is. Vicky is one of my very first blog friends, and has become like a sister to me. I promise that as soon as I know something, you’ll know it too so we can all love her well and love her together.
For now, prayer is huge. Please be praying for Rick and Vicky as they meet about chemotherapy tomorrow and learn a new language that’s coming at them. Pray for the PET scan on Wednesday, that this cancer hasn’t spread any farther than they think.
The plan for right now is for Vicky to undergo chemo for a month and then surgery and recovery time. After that will be more chemo, a round of radiation and then chemo again. Of course, any of that can change at any time, and she will get a different combination for the last phase through the end of the year.
Vicky is asking for prayers not just for her, but for her family, for her mom, Rick, Nolan and Colton. They all will need patience and peace and strength and fortitude. I know, even if she can’t reply to everyone right now, that hearing from you in the comments is going to help keep her going... so please let her know how much she is loved.
I’ll be back during the week to update you more. Thank you all for loving Vicky the way you do. She’s one of a kind.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ready to launch

It must have been my kids who introduced me to the game. Angry Birds. But I had to figure out the nuances of the game on my own. Lets face it, some of those subtleties were discovered by complete accident- a slip of the finger sliding across the screen of my phone, or an inadvertent double hit with my thumb. I don't know how long I played until I realized that by dragging your finger back on the slingshot, you can actually launch the birds further. If only I had known that from the start. It might have saved me some frustrated attempts to implode those little piggies.

Perspective is everything I suppose.

Last Wednesday we left for 5 days to attend the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament in St. Paul. Every time the skyline of the tall buildings come into view, I can't help craning my neck for a view. I was 16 the first time I visited Minneapolis and St. Paul. I recall only being able to walk around slack jawed, wide eyed. It was a visual feast and I couldn't take it all in. A bit of that awe still resides in me today.

That's why my boys are lucky. Spoiled rotten really, without realizing it. We even let Nolan bring a friend with him. We went swimming every day. We attended 6 hockey games.  We ate out, hung out with friends, went to the Mall of America, attended the hockey expo twice, and played knee hockey 24-7.  Nolan got blisters on both knees, but simply put a bandaid over the top of his raw flesh, and proceeded to play some more.

On the surface, spending 5 days at the state hockey tournament, you'd think it'd be all about the hockey.  But really, it was about life and experiences.  Like losing both our games, which had never happened in our 12 appearances at the tournament.  Like watching our boys, and many of us adults, stare uncomfortably at the young kid being taken out on a stretcher by paramedics.  The rumor is he was not only intoxicated, but had been fed laxatives as well.  I had a hard time explaining that to my 10 year old, but that is real life.  I can't shelter him as much as I'd like anymore.  When the girls in the room next to us were questioned by the police, Nolan was about ready to pack up and go home.  I don't think he'll forget this experience for a long time.  None of us will.

I watched Colton playing angry birds on the way home in the car.  I didn't teach him anything about the game.  He figured out how to play on his own.  He has even stopped holding my hand on the escalator at the mall.  He also rides the hotel glass elevator on his own, and delights in zooming up to the 8th floor with his face smooshed against the glass box.

It occurred to me while riding home in the car yesterday.  The boys are like those birds in the game.  Somehow, we as parents have figured out how to launch them further.   They've done more, seen more, lived more, than I ever did as a child.

When they stand rink side at the Xcel Energy Center, and tell me they see themselves playing there one day, I don't doubt them.   You see, I have my fingers ready.  I am prepared.  I will do all I can to help launch them as far as they want to go.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We made it...

We made it!  To the state hockey tournament that is...  this was the celebration shot Rick took after the Spuds beat Bemidji to represent our region at the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament in St. Paul next the end of this week.  We'll be attending the tournament for a few days and can't wait to cheer on our team.  We have 7 second place finishes in the State tournament and hope that maybe, just maybe this will be our year.

We made it!  The end of our hockey season for the boys officially came to a close this weekend.  What a week it has been!  Colton's team ended up in 3rd place for the Mites.

Nolan was the ref for Colton's game again... He reffed 5 games this weekend and hopes to buy something with his paycheck at the hockey expo.

Nolan's team went 3 and 0 heading into the championship game of the Squirt Cup end of season tourney.  Last year was the first year of the Squirt Cup and Nolan's team was the winner.  His name is on the plaque on the bottom of the cup.  Would there be a repeat this year?

The pit in the bottom of my stomach proved to be telling.  Nolan has been reluctant all year to play goalie.  But it was his turn and he didn't want to let his coach down.  He put on a brave face, but he was in tears by the time the 3 goal went past him and they were down 3-0.  It wasn't meant to be.  The black team suffered their first loss to the yellow team and they took second place.  But we didn't get too down.  We felt that seeing Nolan's friends get a chance to have their name on the cup was pretty exciting.  It was a good lesson - joy divided = joy multiplied.  Or, that which we focus on, expands in our life.  

We made it!  Well okay, you got me here.  You would think this photo reflects the spring thaw- and you'd be wrong.   Its still cold (8 degrees) and snowing.  The only thawing was from the sun beaming down on the roof... but I reveled in the blue sky regardless.

Plus if it were really spring?  This big guy wouldn't be living in my yard right now.  We've seen his tracks around for weeks now, but yesterday we finally saw him up close.  

He is really quite big and white and if it weren't for his ears, he'd be hard to see in the snow... 

Yep, he made it too.  So far he is thriving and seems to have survived a harsh, long winter.  But Jack?  Watch your back!  The only other animal we have seen inhabiting the back yard? Well his name is hawk... 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


She...  doesn't come to my house every day anymore... that was so last year.  Its a treat for me to have her reappear in my life, and better yet, in my house.

She... wore her "princess" dress for me and delighted in showing me how it "went out" when she twirled around.  She took one look at the camera in my hand and this is what she did... sigh.  I would so get a tongue out at me or a grimace if it were either of the boys.

and then she curtsied... and believe me that word does not roll off my tongue very easily.  So joyful to use a more feminine vocabulary on occasion. 

She... is a little ham.  A whirling bundle of spirit and happy and spunk... yeah and she is two.  Where did that baby go?  

She... cracks me up...  

Almost all of my pictures of her... are a blur.

They... are love bursting through my front door and filling my home with joy and laughter on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday.  

Please come back soon... 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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